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Global Soccer, Global NYC

Soccer in NYC Reimagined Through the Rivalries, Identity, Migration, and Politics of the World's Game in the Preeminent Global City

Morocco fans in Astoria, Queens celebrate after Issam El Adoua’s header puts them up 1-0 over South Africa in their Africa Cup of Nations group match.

Africa Cup of Nations. Morocco 2 - South Africa 

27 January 2013, 12:00 pm. Casa Lounge, Astoria Queens

Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens is home to the largest Moroccan population in New York City and Casa Lounge, a Moroccan-owned hookah spot, has been the undisputed destination in the neighborhood to catch Morocco’s Africa Cup of Nations matches this year.

Needing a win to progress out of a surprisingly competitive Group A, the Atlas Lions came out strong against a South African side needing at least a draw. Morocco opened the scoring after Issam El Adoua’s header capitalized on some sloppy South African defending in the 10th minute.

As it bounced over the line, the early goal seemed to catch the awestruck Moroccan fans in Queens, at least 75 strong, a bit off guard. Their joy was palpable immediately however, with national team kit-bedecked fans unfurling large red Morocco flags, chanting “wal Maghrib, wal Maghrib” and kissing each other while pointing to the heavens in gratitude.

Unfortunately, a bit of the celebratory momentum was lost when Casa Lounge’s Arabic satellite TV feed went down half way through the first half. A frustrating “channel error connection failed” message hovered ominously over the proceedings as concerned Moroccan fans took to their cell phones in hopes of not missing any of the action in between sips of extortionist-priced $5 mint teas.

Thankfully, the satellite feed came back a few minutes into the second half shortly before May Mahlangu’s composed curling finish from the top of the box in the 71st minute leveled the proceedings in Durban and scaled-up the blood pressure of the Moroccan fans in Queens.

Fate’s cruel twists continued for the Moroccans as they first went back ahead 2-1 after substitute Abdelilah Hafid’s late 82nd minute strike sent the fans on Steinway Street into a rapturous celebration just as the feeble Arabic satellite feed went out once again.

Only four minutes later, however, with many fans nervously pushed into the back of Casa Lounge hoping to catch a glimpse of the reserve internet feed, only available on one of the TVs by this point, South Africa tied the match with Siyabonga Sangweni’s clutch 86th minute bending effort.

The goal effectively sent South Africa through and broke Moroccan hearts. One man at Casa Lounge spiked his mint tea in disgust, and profanity-lanced Arabic diatribes filled the air in Queens as teary knocked-out Moroccan players collapsed on the pitch in Durban.

Cross-posted to Africa is a Country

Moroccan fans on Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens go wild just as Abdelilah Hafid scores in the 82nd minute against South Africa during the Africa Cup of Nations. 

Moroccan fans on Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens go wild just as Abdelilah Hafid scores in the 82nd minute against South Africa during the Africa Cup of Nations. 

A Moroccan fan nervously watches the action against South Africa during an Africa Cup of Nations match in Astoria, Queens. 

A Moroccan fan nervously watches the action against South Africa during an Africa Cup of Nations match in Astoria, Queens. 

International “Friendly.” Colombia 1 - Brazil 1

14 November 2012, 8 pm. MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford NJ

While not a domestic club rivalry, the recent ‘friendly’ match between the national teams of Colombia and Brazil took place at a fascinating juncture for both teams. Brazil, being Brazil, were tasked with both exercising the demons of the last time they played in the NYC area— a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to arch rivals Argentina in June— as well as building a squad of potential World Cup winners to satisfy the legendarily critical domestic audience on the road to hosting the 2014 World Cup. Colombia, on the other hand, was playing their first friendly match in NYC for years and was eager to demonstrate its soccer resurgence to the heavily Colombian crowd.

Perhaps as a result of public transportation issues still affecting the region following hurricane Sandy in addition to the freezing November temperatures, MetLife Stadium’s attendance for the night only hit 39,000. Still, the Colombian supporters section rocked with every touch, pass, and shot for 90 minutes and dwarfed the noise of the outnumbered Brazilian fans at the match. Aided with smuggled into-the-stadium vuvuzelas, drums, and guacharacas, the multi-generational Colombian fans, many of whom made the pilgrimage to the stadium from Queens, relished the opportunity to cheer on their idols Falcao, James, Yepes, Guarín, and the others that comprise South America’s hottest and the world’s currently 8th ranked team.

"Following la seleccion was one of the earliest ways I began to learn about and celebrate my Colombian identity," said journalist and Colombia fan Monika Fabian. "So attending local friendlies are—and always have been—an extension of that pride. Take my mother, for instance, she’d never say "let’s go see la seleccion." She’d say "let’s go receive la seleccion." Just like you’d receive, or host, relatives. Because that’s kind of what they are as a symbol from home. And to root for Colombia at the stadium is to push the country forward chant by chant." 

On the pitch, Fiorentina midfielder Juan Guillermo Cuadrado struck first for Colombia right before the break. This was followed by an outstanding individual effort by Neymar to tie it up for Brazil in the 64th minute. With ten minutes left, Neymar had the seemingly-assured opportunity to complete his brace and win it for a Brazilian squad playing in their landmark 1,000th match. Instead, the talented forward hit one of the very worst penalty kicks ever and sent the ball far into the upper decks much to the relief and enjoyment of the Colombian fans. In the last ten minutes Colombia pressed forward, with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos even tweeting encouragement to Los Cafeteros, to no avail. 

The glaring Neymar miss and ensuing 1-1 result left the Colombian fans energized and enjoying the party atmosphere in the parking lot following the match. Most viewed the 1-1 draw over mighty Brazil as a de facto victory. For the dejected Brazil supporters, the opposite seemed true. 

Just a week after the match, Brazilian coach Mano Menezes was sacked by the Brazilian Football Federation as they try to do everything they can to ensure a Cup win on home soil in an attempt to vanquish the longstanding ghosts of the 1950 Maracanazo. Anything less than triumphantly hoisting the World Cup at the Maracanã in 2014 would not only be a failure, but a pronounced crisis of national identity. 

This yellow and blue-clad waiter was getting down to some Boca tunes before el Superclásico kicked off in Elmhurst, Queens at Boca Juniors Steakhouse on Queens Blvd.

El Superclásico. Boca Juniors 2 - River Plate 2

28 October 2012, 2:30 pm. Boca Juniors Steakhouse, Elmhurst Queens

As a result of River Plate’s relegation last year, it had been 530 days since the last superclásico, Latin America’s biggest match, took place. This time away was an eternity for the Porteños of Buenos Aires and the Argentinian diaspora community in Elmhurst, Queens.

At the undisputed, however partisan, mecca of Argentinian soccer in the NYC area, Boca Juniors Steakhouse on Queens Boulevard, fans began filing in more than an hour before kickoff with the hopes of scoring seats for what constitutes one of the very best soccer watching experiences in the city.

The Elmhurst/Jackson Heights area of Queens has been the center of the NYC Argentinian migrant community since the mid-1960’s, however these migration flows accelerated during the dirty war in the 1970’s and the continued inflation and economic crises in the 80’s and 90’s. Today, over 22,000 Argentinians live in the NYC metro area, with more than a quarter of those residing in Queens.

The steakhouse itself is a veritable Boca Juniors theme restaurant entirely covered from floor to ceiling in Boca and La Albiceleste regalia. Life-sized, signed posters of past and present Boca heroes such as Maradona, Tevez, Palermo, Riquelme, and others share space with flags, scarfs, autographed balls, and framed pictures of the establishment’s owner with the Boca elite (players and coaches, but seemingly Barra Brava royalty as well).

Before the match even began the waiters, dressed in full Boca and River strips, danced around the restaurant with Boca colored umbrellas taking steak and empanada orders while leading patrons in a variety of highly orchestrated Boca songs that each had their own call and response lyrics and accompanied combative arm gestures.

The match itself proved just as exciting. After going down 1-0 after only the second minute, Boca dug themselves even deeper after Rodrigo Mora’s neat finish put River up 2-0 in the 70th minute. Boca got one back in the 74th after menacing Uruguayan striker Santiago ‘El Tanque’ Silva's cool penalty kick. Then, deep into stoppage time, Walter Erviti redirected an errant El Tanque header to help Boca salvage a dramatic point and send the crowd in Queens into an absolute frenzy. Fans jumped on tables and removed their shirts. Elderly women started to cry tears of joy. The cooks emerged from the back of the kitchen waving a giant Boca flag. The yellow and blue umbrellas came out again and the entire restaurant turned into spontaneous, vocal dance party.             

While perhaps not as exciting as being in Buenos Aires and marching thousands-deep through the city’s main highway into River territory, for the NYC-based Boca fans present in Elmhurst for the match, Boca Juniors Steakhouse offers a little slice of superclásico mad home that simply has to be experienced to be believed. 

The amazing superclásico crowd going wild at Boca Juniors Steakhouse in Elmhurst, Queens right after Boca tied River 2-2 in injury time to salvage a point in Latin American soccer’s biggest game.

Boca Juniors fans chant, sing, and dance with Boca-colored umbrellas in Queens before el superclásico kicks off. 

Boca Juniors fans chant, sing, and dance with Boca-colored umbrellas in Queens before el superclásico kicks off. 

El Clásico. Barca 2 - Real Madrid 2

7 October 2012, 1:30 pm. Casa Galicia Social Club, Astoria Queens

Perhaps the most famous of all global soccer rivalries, the heated and at least twice-a-year matchup between F.C. Barcelona and Real Madrid, universally known as El Clásico, now attracts a live global TV audience of more than 400 million people

It divides fan bases the world over, but also continues to split Spain itself, as the match has been traditionally intertwined with the Catalan succesion movement and Real Madrid’s personification of central authority— both royal and dictatorial during the Franco years. This year, the match took upon an even greater meaning with the Spanish economy continuing to weaken and a renewed movement for Catalan independence gaining considerable strength. In the days prior to this fall’s El Clásico, the political overtones in many ways overshadowed the match itself with over 98,000 Barca fans hoisting up yellow and red Catalan flag-colored cards to make “the biggest ever version of the Catalan national flag” and "nearly 100,000 voices in a sold-out Camp Nou set to bellow "Independence! Independence!" at two carefully co-ordinated moments during the match." 

Over 200 predominately Spanish and Spanish-American fans gathered at Casa Galicia in Astoria to provide an incredible atmosphere and take in the action alongside bountiful and affordable tapas and Estrella beers. Founded in 1940 by Galician immigrants who arrived in Astoria after the Spanish civil war, the embassy-like Casa Galicia remains a members only social club that opens its doors solely to the in-the-know public for El Clásico twice a year and a small number of Spanish national team matches. Despite the evenly split bevy of Barca and Madrid kits on hand in Astoria on October 7th, there were no Catalan flags raised and most Barca supporters remained quiet during the two carefully-timed chants of “Independencia” taking place at the Camp Nou.

In the end, rather, it was the two biggest stars of the sport, Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, both non-Spaniards, that stole the show in Barcelona as well as in in Astoria. Each scoring two goals for their respective club, their captivating on-going duel to prove who is the greatest player in the world temporarily resonated larger than secessionist politics and renewed expressions of political nationalism.   

Barcelona and Real Madrid Fans at Casa Galicia Social Club. Astoria, Queens. 

Barcelona and Real Madrid Fans at Casa Galicia Social Club. Astoria, Queens. 

"Club América is, to begin, cosmopolitan in a way that arch-rival Deportivo Chivas is not; La Liga’s wealthiest team spurns the Guadalajarans’ pro-Mexico policy, spending freely to obtain its allowance of international standouts. It also plays home matches at a venue conspicuous and capacious enough for an entire continent, maybe two: resting at an elevation of 7300-feet above sea level. América’s Estadio Azteca lends the side a bird’s-eye view of a holistic West; seating 105,000, Azteca truly suits an unabashedly ambitious club that plies its trade in the world’s largest city."
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David Faflik, Fútbol América: Hemispheric Sport as Border Studies

El Súper Clásico de Mexico. Chivas 3 - América 1

6 October 2012, 6 pm. La Jungla Bar and Taqueria Coatzingo, Jackson Heights Queens

Club Deportivo Guadalajara (Chivas or The Goats) and Club de Fútbol América S.A. de C.V (América or The Eagles) are both Mexican Professional football clubs competing in Liga MX, the top professional league in Mexico. They play each other at least twice a year in intense, contested derbies. The match-up exemplifies a deep-seeded rivalry between the two sides, as they are considered the two most popular and successful teams in Mexico. The rivalry became known as “El Súper Clásico” (The Super Classic). Chivas have 11 league titles, with the 1960s being their glory days while America, having won 10 league titles, ruled the league in the 1980s.

This derby is also about the nationality of the players on each team. América is located in Mexico City and regarded as the wealthiest club in Mexico. They have always purchased the most expensive players and foreigners available. Chivas of Guadalajara on the other hand, are the only Mexican club to play with only Mexican born players, hence intensifying the difference between the teams and rivalry between supporters. It is a competition between big cities, one team representing the wealthy and the other representing the local.

El Súper Clásico raises huge excitement for Mexico as well as New York where there are Mexican communities of supporters rooting for either clubs. The intensity of the game is lived so passionate in the local Mexican communities that every time the two teams challenge each other, regardless of standings or what level they show throughout the league, it is always considered the most important game of the season. This was the case this fall in Jackson Heights, Queens, which boasts a large Mexican immigrant population that is inherently connected to the biggest rivalry back in Mexico. This rivalry, in turn, dictates and reconsolidates notions of identity and nationalism back home. 

During the 1970s and 1980s the matches between Club America and Chivas were intense and many times the games deteriorated into violence. One of the most memorable matches between the two teams was on August 17, 1986. The match resulted into a brawl that led the suspension of all 22 players on both teams, which turned out to be one of the most memorable events in El Súper Clásico history.

Chivas and América gear on Roosevelt Avenue. Jackson Heights, Queens. 

Chivas and América gear on Roosevelt Avenue. Jackson Heights, Queens.